This month my mother would have turned 100 years old and it’s kind of sad that she didn’t get to do it. I know she would have loved all the attention one would rightfully receive reaching such a milestone, but she was proud enough turning 90. She had outlasted all her siblings — though technically she was practically the baby. Number five out of six.
She didn’t have it too easy growing up but then not many did during that era. She suffered through the depression minimally, the worst part was having only five articles of clothing that she creatively mixed and matched every day. I felt that same pain as a child because that’s about all the clothes I had, too, and I was afraid to put them in the hamper for fear I’d have nothing to wear by Saturday. Mom only did the wash on Monday — no exceptions - and if it wasn’t in the hamper it didn’t get washed. Monday afternoon my clothes were usually still laid out at the foot of my bed. The bed I shared with my sisters — in the corner of my parent’s bedroom. I had no closet or dresser. I’m starting to think maybe I had it harder than she did. I even had to walk to school, and it WAS uphill both ways!
Mom’s father died when she was 16, leaving a big hole in her heart. The following year Mom graduated — which was early because Minetto didn’t have a kindergarten and she had gone straight to first grade. She was quite smart and intended to go to business school — until the accident.
One evening this same summer she and a group of friends decided they wanted to go for ice cream out at the stands. One of the guys had a car so they all hopped in. They must have been having a lot of fun because they didn’t head home until nearly two in the morning. Something went wrong with the car and they crashed into a tree. With no seat belts invented yet, one girl died and my mother ended up with a broken jaw, broken nose, and missing a lot of upper teeth.
She needed dentures, but my grandmother was already taking in laundry and sewing as well as being a part-time cook at the Dubois Hotel next door to make ends meet — while also raising a grandson as her own. My mom needed a job.
Due to the accident she was unable to get the position she coveted as a librarian. I suppose partly because of the missing teeth and partly because people had assumed they were all drinking that night. Reputation was powerful in those days. She finally found work in Syracuse as a live in maid/babysitter, coming home on the weekends. It took her two years to save enough money for those dentures.
True to her nature, she wore those same dentures for the rest of her life.
But her childhood wasn’t all bad. She had a lot of friends who also belonged to the youth group at church and she had wonderful memories of those times. She learned to pull taffy, and they were forever putting on plays. I’m actually a tad jealous of that. The closest I ever came to that level of excitement was when my friend Tina held Muscular Dystrophy carnivals in her yard.
And that job in Syracuse? Well, she needed a ride to and from and that’s how she met my dad. Dad was good friends with Jerry, who was dating Mom’s sister Ellyn and they all rode together that fateful day my father fell in love.
Mom had six kids in remarkably the same order as her mother did — two girls, a boy, and three more girls. I was lined up with Aunt Ellyn, who was the first to die so I spent a lot of my time wondering if I would also be the first to die. I wasn’t, because her second born beat me to it.
So Mom had to grieve through losing a husband, a child, a great-grandchild, and all of her siblings. She was a tough cookie. As much as I want to be a tough cookie, too, I don’t want to suffer those same circumstances. My plan is to go first.
Mom’s life wasn’t perfect, but she was happy enough. She raised good kids … well none of us got arrested anyway. She had a good sense of humor, which helped a lot in our crazy household and on particularly bad days she would go outside and scream. This was embarrassing for us but it activated the neighbors to stop over for coffee, which was just what she needed.
Let’s just say the 18-cup percolator was always on and the neighbors were always there to help her drink it.
I’m still missing you, Mom.